Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), a recap (part 3)

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Welcome back to my latest patron-only recap! The full recap is available to those who pledge just $1/month on the Agony Booth’s Patreon page.

Previously: Spock’s human blood was touched by the big evil cloud out in space and so he didn’t get to join the Kohlinar Klub. Meanwhile, Kirk and Scotty flew around the Enterprise in a shuttle, and um… you know, I don’t think anything else happened.

On the Enterprise bridge, it’s total chaos, with crewmen yelling at each other as they try to get everything working, and there’s even someone standing on some sort of antigravity pad to fix something on the ceiling. Because in the 23rd Century, ladders are totally passé. We pan across the bridge and find Uhura hard at work, and Nichelle Nichols is notably sporting a much more natural ‘do than in her TOS days. And hey, now she even gets to wear pants, as do all the other female crew members.

Meanwhile, the guy in white is thinking how much better this job would be if they were still wearing the miniskirts.

Kirk arrives in the turbolift, and Uhura addresses him as “Captain” because she just got the “transfer-of-command order” from Starfleet. Sulu and Chekov are also here on the bridge, and everybody stops what they’re doing to stand around Kirk and bask in his glow. Kirk thanks them for the warm welcome but wishes the circumstances were less dire.

“Thank you all for admiring me almost as much as I admire myself.”

He asks where the infamous Captain Decker is, and Sulu tells him he’s in Engineering. “He, uh… he doesn’t know.” Meaning it’s up to Kirk to break the bad news. And here we get the first instance of a split-field diopter shot in this movie, and it won’t be the last. For those not familiar, a split-field diopter is a special lens attachment that allows the camera to focus simultaneously on elements in the foreground and elements in the background; the tell-tale sign is the blurry line running down the middle of the frame. Apparently, The Motion Picture is notorious for its use of the split-field diopter and might even hold the record for most uses in a film. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and frankly the purpose of most of these shots kind of eludes me.

“There’s a Vaseline smear across the middle of the lens, oh my!”

Kirk tells Chekov to assemble the crew in the rec room later, and then he heads on down to Engineering, and despite this supposedly being the same ship, it looks totally different from the TOS set. It’s laid out like the future Next Generation Engineering set, with a tall pulsating warp drive column, and people having to take personal elevators from one level to another. Kirk rides the elevator down to where Scotty is working with Captain Decker, apparently to fix the transporters. And this is where things get uncomfortable, because Decker is played by Stephen Collins, who decades later admitted to doing some gross sexual things with underage girls, and yet denied that this made him a pedophile. You’ll be happy to know that I’ll be avoiding the pedophilia jokes in this recap, but I sure won’t feel bad about unloading on his character and what a tool he is in this movie.

Decker sees Kirk and thinks the Enterprise is just getting a “top brass send-off”. Oh, you’re getting a send-off alright, Decker.

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Multi-Part Article: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), a recap

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  • Xander

    And now I can’t stop thinking of the pilot for Newsradio where Dave has to fire his predecessor before he can get to work. I don’t remember them mentioning it in the commentary track, but I wonder if that was a reference to this.

  • Tyler Peterson

    I always kind of suspected the bit in Galaxy Quest where an animal gets turned inside out was a direct callback to this movie’s transporter accident. .

    • mamba

      I thought it was a callout to The Fly (80’s version)

  • AJ

    for all its flaws, I still say the dull gray/tan onesies are the worst aspect of this film
    it just amazes me to no end how ugly the Starfleet uniforms are in this, just…. yuck

    • Grumpy

      Contrariwise, I rather appreciate the variety, especially the short-sleeved options. Uhura never looked better, in my opinion. What drags down the overall aesthetic, then, is the dull backgrounds that the uniforms blend into.

  • Grumpy

    The split diopter was necessary, if I recall correctly, because the sets were too confining to bring enough lights needed for narrow-aperture, deep focus shots.

    • Grumpy

      Correction: rather than the buttoned-up set (which posed other production problems), from a cinematography forum I learn that the brightness of the filmstrips inside the consoles limited the light exposure. This was less of a problem later 1) when the consoles switched to brighter video monitors and 2) absent Robert Wise, who always wanted deep focus, even if he couldn’t have the fast film, superior lenses, and blazing lights of Citizen Kane.

      • Grumpy

        Furthermore, the filmstrips and their noisy projectors were the reason every bridge scene had dialogue dubbed.